The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

The Robber Bride by Margaret AtwoodThe Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

The writing is excellent, and Ms. Atwood’s gorgeous prose is both riveting and insightful. Even so, I have to own after 528 pages where the men in the novel (the heterosexual men, anyway) are portrayed covering the gamut of nearly every imaginable negative male stereotype, I came away feeling like I’d seriously had the crap kicked out of me.

Actually, I do seem to recall the brief appearance of a male cook from Roz’s childhood who didn’t seem too bad. Unfortunately, I suspect this might have been because he simply wasn’t in the story long enough for his latent, negative characteristics to surface. *sigh*

I have to wonder, as deliciously clever as this story is, and as deftly as Ms. Atwood wields the wicked Zenia in her attempt to demolish the lives of Tony, Charis and Roz, was it really necessary to portray EVERY man in the book in the worst possible light?  This certainly suggests the tone of someone with an ax to grind.

The Robber Bride seems to go out of its way to portray men as abusive, unfaithful, hapless, weak-minded and over-sexed simply so they can be used as the tools in Zenia’s arsenal to undo the novel’s three heroines.  But if you can destroy a woman by destroying the men in their lives what does this then say about women?  It stands to reason then, based on the plot, that woman are the most vulnerable where men are concerned.  But why should that be?  Are we to think ultimately it’s men who make a women who they are?  Take away the man and you take away who the woman really is?

No, I don’t think so.

It seems to me, despite the brilliance of the writing, the unintended consequence of the novel’s negative portrayal of men is that women end up taking quite a beating too.

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Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken by Laura HillenbrandUnbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

I don’t read very much non-fiction (for pleasure anyway), but this book was recommended to me by a friend.  So, I decided to give it a try. Written by Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Seabiscuit, Unbroken reads more like a novel than some novels I’ve read. This one had me at the Preface.

Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini; a reckless boy turned Olympic hopeful, an Olympic hopeful turned WWII bombardier, a WWII bombardier turned POW, a POW (eventually) turned civilian and then a troubled civilian desperately in search of peace after the war.

Honest and unflinching, I kept having to stop and close my eyes just so I could try to process what I was reading. Louie’s (and those of the other South Pacific POWs) is an incredible story of endurance and survival in the face of unimaginable suffering, but it’s also a story of hope and forgiveness, and of the true, life-sustaining power of human dignity.

I highly recommend it.

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Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtOkay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

This may well be the best book I’ve listened to this year.
(Although honestly the title and the cover still baffle me.)

Set against a back drop of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing, this coming of age story will have you rooting for Doug Swieteck from the very start.

It’s Doug’s voice that gives this story both its charm and its unexpected power. No self-pity. No angst. He’s just a troubled 14-year-old junior high school boy from a troubled home, trying to make his way in a new town and a new school. His simple acceptanace of the way things are compelled me to WANT things to change for him for the better.

After an unplanned visit to the local public library, Doug is captivated by the beauty of several [art print] plates of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. It’s through his study of these plates that Doug discovers not only an unexpected talent for art, but a new way of understanding his own life through the paintings themselves which become a powerful theme running throughout the book.

This is one story I absolutely did not want to see come to an end.

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Jennifer Egan: Authors at Google

(From Authors at Google on March 27th, 2012)

Jennifer Egan talks about her 2011 Pulitzer prize winning novel:
“A Visit from the Goon Squad”.

I love how honestly and candidly she talks about her writing, what works and what doesn’t, and about the rules she establishes for herself as she begins each new project.

I had the pleasure of listening to The Keep on audio in 2010 and then A Visit from the Goon Squad in 2011. I’m currently listening to Look At Me (finalist for the 2001 National Book Award).  Jennifer’s writing is razor sharp, and her perception about what drives people to be who they are and to do what they do always feels spot-on.

If you aren’t yet familiar with Jennifer Egan’s novels or her short stories, I highly recommend taking a closer look.  After you do, I’d love to know what you think.

Reason #43 Why I Love Dan Fogelberg

Dan Fogelberg Nether Lands
From Dan Fogelberg’s fourth album,
Nether Lands, released in 1977.

Many writers have a variety playlists for each of their WIPs.  Some even for each chapter.  Not me.  For me, Dan Fogelberg is ALWAYS my writing music of choice.

I mean, who even writes songs like this anymore???  This is the kind of music that never fails to make me feel alive.  #love


Nether Lands

High on this mountain
The clouds down below
I`m feeling so strong and alive.
From this rocky perch
I`ll continue to search
For the wind
And the snow
And the sky.
I want a lover,
I want some friends,
And I want to live in the sun.
And I want to do all the things that I
never have done.

Sunny bright mornings
And pale moonlit nights
Keep me from feeling alone.
Now, I`m learning to fly
And this freedom is like
Nothing that I`ve ever known.
I`ve seen the bottom
And I`ve been on top
But mostly I`ve lived in between,
And where do you go
When you get to the end of
your dream?

Off in the nether lands
I heard a sound
Like the beating of heavenly wings.
And deep in my brain
I can hear a refrain
Of my soul as she rises and sings.
Anthems to glory and
Anthems to love and
Hymns filled with Earthly delight,
Like the songs that the darkness
Composes to worship the light.

Once in a vision
I came on some woods
And stood at a fork in the road.
My choices were clear
Yet I froze with the fear
Of not knowing which way to go.
One road was simple;
Acceptance of life.
The other road offered sweet peace
When I made my decision
My vision became my release.

~ Dan Fogelberg

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa MeyerCinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars!

If you like Science Fiction and classic fairy tales, read this book!

Cinder is one of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a while. Unlike her fairy tale counterpart (Cinderella), Cinder is smart, brave, not helpless, and lots of common sense.  I liked her immediately.  Cinder also has a fantastic voice that drew me in and kept me wanting to know what would happen to her.

Set on Earth in the post-WWIV future, the story takes place in New Beijing, the plague-ridden capital of the new Eastern Commonwealth.  Make no mistake, this isn’t another futuristic dystopian fantasy; this story is pure Science Fiction where cyborgs, androids and netlinks abound!

While there are places the writing could have gone much deeper into world-building: fleshing out the intricacies of this new futuristic society, its complicated politics, its culture, etc., I for one appreciated Ms. Meyer’s light touch.  Even so, there’s plenty of world-building here to set the appropriate tone for a story that has real emotional power.

Initially, I simply enjoyed the clever ways Cinder mirrors the classic elements of the original Cinderella fairy tale (no spoilers), but the deeper I got into the story, the more I appreciated how much work went in to crafting this unique retelling.  Although the novel uses the well-known Cinderella tale to organize the high-level plot structure, the story that unfolds from there is nothing like what you might expect and still manages to hold some delightful surprises!

I read a lot in the young adult space and I’m always on the lookout for a well written story I’d feel comfortable in recommending to my 14-year-old daughter, who loves both classic literature and classic fairy tales.  Cinder is one book recommendation I’d happily pass along.

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The 7 (Seven) Game

The 7 (Seven) Game

This morning, Laura Moss tagged me in a writing challenge. It’s called “The Seven Game” (or “The Lucky 7”).  I’d never heard of it before, but it sounded like fun.  So, I’ve decided to play along.

Here are the rules:

  1. Go to page 77 of your current MS.
  2. Go to line 7.
  3. Copy down the next seven lines or sentences and paste them as they’re written.
  4. Tag seven other writers to play the game.

This entry (slightly over the seven line limit) is from my current WIP, “Raven Academy”:
(a MG/YA Fantasy involving Time Travel!)

“Price? What are you doing here?”, Dennis demanded.

Connor looked from Dennis to Karl to the struggling seventh-grader.

“This is a private matter, Price! It doesn’t concern you. Just turn around and leave now, and Karl and I will pretend we never saw you.”

Karl glared at Connor, his bushy eyebrows drawn together into a single black swath across his ridged forehead. He looked even angrier than Dennis at being interrupted as he tightened his grip on the seventh-grader’s arms. The boy squealed involuntarily, humiliated, then gave up struggling and fixed his eyes pleadingly on Connor for help.

Tag! You’re (Alphabetically) It!

  1. Kate Hart
  2. Alina Klein
  3. Carolina Valdez Miller
  4. Laura Pauling
  5. Teresa Robeson
  6. Michele Shaw
  7. Anna Staniszewski

Have fun playing along on your blog!

(If you do decide to join in, please post the link back here in the comments.)

Thanks!!!

The Shadows by Jacqueline West

The Shadows by Jacqueline WestThe Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1) by Jacqueline West

My rating: 4 of 5 stars!

I love Olive Dunwoody!

Eleven-year-old Olive has recently moved into a new house with her loving, but slightly clueless, mathematician parents. While they’re off being grown-ups, Olive is busy discovering there’s more to their new home than meets the eye. Measuring up in equal parts of cleverness, bravery and innocence, Olive slowly learns their new home has some dangerous old secrets.

With the help of a pair of unique spectacles, Olive soon discovers she’s able to travel into the many unusual paintings hanging around the house. And she makes some very interesting new friends along they way. In order to save her family and herself from the evil resulting from the series of events she has unwittingly initiates herself, Olive is forced to face some of her own worst fears and then to try and overcome them.

The Shadows features an engaging plotline with characters and descriptions that being the story to life. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where else the Elsewhere books will take us. And Olive, of course!

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The Fear of Falling

Wile E Coyote Going Over a CliffI’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my fears lately. For me, one of my biggest is the fear of falling. Some of my worst nightmares involve either actively falling or those final terrifying seconds just before I slip off the edge of some precipice into a yawning abyss.

*shudders*

 

When I stop and think about it during my (safer) waking hours, the scary part about falling isn’t really the fall itself; it’s the expectation of what’s waiting at the bottom of that drop that gives me the shivers.

While I was mulling that thought over last week, I remembered something I’d learned years ago about walking, of all things.  But it made me stop everything I was doing right then and give it my full attention.

Walking is nothing more than controlled falling.

I know it might sound a little crazy at first, but it’s true. If you’re not convinced, try this little experiment. Stand up, right where you are with both feet firmly on the floor. Now, WITHOUT leaning forward, raise one foot out in front of you like you’re about to take a step.

What happened?

Probably nothing.  Most likely (unless your balance is a bit off), you’re simply standing there with one foot in the air. (You look silly by the way, but I’m not laughing. I promise. *ahem*) Okay, assuming you’re still standing on one foot, go ahead and give into gravity and let yourself fall forward onto your extended foot.

See? You’ve just taken step. Do it again and you’re walking. But you can’t do either one without falling first.  So, if walking is actually falling, why aren’t those of us who are afraid of falling also afraid of walking? It all goes back to that word: control.

We’ve learned to control the fall.

We learn to walk before we’re old enough to let our fear of falling down keep us from trying. Eventually, through practice and experience, we learn to change our expectation about what’s really waiting for us at the bottom of that (albeit short) drop following each step. Because we learned to control the fall, we know what’s waiting at the bottom is just another place to set our foot so we can take our next step. It’s only in the act of letting go and allowing ourselves to fall  that we’re able to stop falling and actually walk. If we don’t risk the fall, we can keep ourselves safe, but the cost is that we’ll have to stay where we are.  Without risk, we’ll never go anywhere.

Period.

It’s only by deliberately risking the fall:
That anything can change.
That anything will change.
That everything will change.

So what about you? Are any of your fears holding you back? Is there something you want to do (something need to do) but you’re too afraid to try?

Do yourself a favor. . .

Trust yourself. Let go of your fear. Risk the fall. Welcome the experience and learn from it. Then, take control.  You know how.

Remember, you’ve only been doing it all your life.

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
NOTE:
Please embrace your fears responsibly. The practice of learning to overcome fears through experience should not be applied using actual, life-threatening fears which are outside of your control such as severe weather, natural disasters or the zombie apocalypse.

Pushing Past My Indecision

Indiana Jones Indecision
(image courtesy of Tumblr)

I struggle a lot with indecision where my writing is concerned.

Usually, that indecision only takes the form of nearly endless revision. Painful, but true. *sigh* However, more recently my struggle has shifted to two new fronts beyond the printed page;

  1. Deciding whether or not to renew my SCBWI membership.
  2. Deciding whether or not to attend my local SCBWI’s annual conference this year (depending on the outcome of #1).

To some writers this may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve spent weeks debating what to do. For me, participating in a writing event…with other people…is a big deal. Every. Single. Time.

(I planned a much longer post about the reasons behind this, but I’ve decided to hold off on sharing that one for now.)

So . . .

To make this REALLY long story short, I’ve decided to renew my SCBWI membership (at least one more year) AND to attend my local regional annual conference this year.

Also, in a completely uncharacteristic move on my part, I’ve decided to register for one of the open professional manuscript critique slots at the conference. This will be first for me. The prospect simultaneously excites and terrifies me. My eyes have been the only ones on my WIP for so long, I’ve decided if it’s not ready to be critiqued by now it never will be.

I’m also looking forward to seeing other local writers I met at last year’s conference who I’ve been connecting with virtually since.

* * *

In related writing news, I’ve got one other significant (to me anyway) something in the works. I don’t want to say what it is yet. But, I will say it’s requiring me to complete a 750 word synopsis of my WIP by this Friday!

Thankfully, this post from Susan Dennard on How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis is making that task MUCH more manageable.

Thanks Susan!